Redd Hot, St-r-eamy Lovin’

Love is in the air, and for Valentine’s Day the Elk River Alliance would like to showcase some amazing mating strategies of water animals. Most organisms that reproduce sexually display intricate behaviours that allow them to choose an optimal mate. If you’re looking to spice up your love life, consider taking inspiration from nature! Below we divulge the secret sex-lives of the Westslope cutthroat trout, mayflies, and the American Dipper.

Cutthroat courtship
Westslope cutthroat trout thrive in the Elk River watershed, with Lizard Creek being one of the most productive spawning streams, containing many “redds” (spawning sites). As young fry, trout live between spaces in stream bottom rocks, then, when they are one to four years old, they venture into larger waters such as the Elk River. But to reproduce they return home, to the stream they were born and raised in. Mating takes place in early summer, when the female diligently uses her fins to create a divot in the gravel bed. Several males may hang around one female, vying for her attention and chasing off competing males. The female lays her eggs in the divot she created, the male fertilizes the eggs, and the female carefully buries the egg mass in some loose gravel forming a “redd.” She does it in such a clever way, that water flowing over the redd aerates the eggs, ensuring enough oxygen gets to the younglings. How’s that for engineering? Many streams have redds during April-August, with a peak during May-July, so it’s important to avoid wading in streams during that time. 

Insect Intimacy
Mayflies are aquatic insects that make their adult lives entirely about getting busy. As premature nymphs, mayflies spend years in clean mountain waters clinging to rocks and eating algae. They build up energy reserves and, when ready, crawl out of their skin as winged adults. The emergence is synchronized, and you can see thousands, or millions of mayflies emerge at once in massive swarms. As adults, they don’t have time for the bothersome process of feeding and don’t even develop mouth parts. Males swarm just above the water, hoping to catch the attention of nearby females. If females deem the male suitable, she will fly up to him, and the male will use his front legs to grab onto the female, bend his abdomen and insert his two-pronged… ahem… reproductive organ. The females deposit the fertilized eggs in the water and, having fulfilled their motherly duty, promptly die. 

Dipping into Romance
American Dippers are small charcoal birds that flutter along the banks of mountain streams. They are the only North American songbird species to actively hunt in the water, using their wings to swim. As their name implies, they make a solid portion of life all about dipping up and down. They dip when excited, they dip when alarmed, they dip when aroused. Most often, you’ll see them on a rock in the middle of the stream repeatedly bobbing up and down. A leading theory suggests that this dipping display allows them to stand out and show off to potential mates in a noisy environment. But, as songbirds, dippers also have a beautifully piercing song that rings above the rushing water to get their mates attention. When two mates size each other up, they do the courtship dance: lowered tails, raised heads, and, of course, dipping. Nests are built under rocky overhangs or bridges, made out of moss to perfectly blend into the surroundings. As the fledgelings emerge from their eggs, one of the first they learn to do is bob up and down.

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